Ballet Shoes (novel)
|Publisher||J. M. Dent & Sons|
|Pages||303 pp (first edition)|
|LC Classification||PZ7.S914 Bal|
|Followed by||Tennis Shoes|
Ballet Shoes: a story of three children on the stage is a children's novel by Noel Streatfeild, published by Dent in 1936. It was her first book for children and it inaugurated the "Shoes" series (1936 to 1962) that has been popular worldwide.
Streatfeild and Ballet Shoes were a commended runner up for the inaugural Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best British children's book by a British subject.[a] She won the Medal for the third novel in the series, The Circus Is Coming, also published as Circus Shoes.
The narrative concern three adopted sisters, Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil. Each of the girls is discovered as a baby by Matthew Brown (Great-Uncle-Matthew, or Gum), an elderly, absent-minded paleontologist and professor, during his world travels, and sent home to his great-niece, Sylvia, and her childhood nanny, whom everybody called 'Nana'.
Gum (Great-Uncle-Matthew) embarks upon an expedition of many years, and arranges for money to support the family while he is gone. He then disappears. Despite trying to save money until Gum's return, he does not return in the promised five years, and the money is soon almost gone. As they have no way to contact him, or track him down, Sylvia and Nana decide to take in boarders to help make ends meet, which introduces a variety of people who become important to the children. Boarders include Mr. Simpson, who runs an auto repair garage and is as interested in engines as Petrova, and his wife, Mrs. Simpson; also, Dr. Jakes and Dr. Smith, a pair of tutors who take over the children's schooling after Sylvia can no longer afford their school fees and has tried, but failed, to teach the children herself; last of all, Miss Thea Dane, a dance teacher, who arranges for the children to begin classes at the Children's Academy of Classical Ballet.
They all have very different views of dancing and acting. Pauline soon find she has a talent and passion for acting. Petrova loathes all acting and dancing, and, if it wasn't for the money they could earn acting when they reach the minimum age for performing professionally at twelve, she would quit. Posy doesn't think much of anything but dancing, for which she has a real talent. When she is about six, Madame Fidolia, a famous and retired Russian dancer, teaches Posy entirely herself, which has never happened before.
As the children mature, they begin to develop their own talents, and take on some of the responsibility of supporting the household. Much of the drama in the plot comes from the friction between the sisters and from balancing their desire to help support the family financially against the laws limiting the amount of time they may spend on stage and the rules set by the London County Council, such as "one-third of a child's earnings must go into the post office (bank)".
Pauline's talent for English and drama means she is picked for important parts early on in her career. This early success goes to her head during the production in which she has her first lead role, but after being set down a peg when the producer replaces her with her understudy, she learns enough humility to balance her talent and goes on to play many successful lead parts.
Though she is still too young to perform on stage by the end of the book, Posy is developing into a brilliant ballet dancer, though she also clashes with her sisters as she is so focused on dancing that she can be insensitive about anything that gets in her way.
Petrova's struggle differs slightly from her sisters' in that she is not interested in the performing arts at all, and has little talent for it, but she must keep attending the classes and performing in order to help support the family, meanwhile trying to hold onto her own dream of flying airplanes.
All three sisters are inspired and kept up by their repeated vow: "We three Fossils vow to try and put our name in the history books, because it's our very own, and nobody can say it's because of our grandfathers."
The book ends with Pauline going off to Hollywood to make a film, accompanied by Sylvia. Posy is going to a ballet school in Prague, accompanied by Nana. Petrova wonders what will become of her, as she is still too young to live on her own, and she doesn't want to dance or act. At this moment, Gum miraculously walks through the front door. He has been away so long that he doesn't realise who the three girls are at first, but after they convince him they are the babies he left all those years ago and tell him what has happened, he decides he will take Petrova under his wing and help her to achieve her dream. Although the book ends while the girls are still teenagers and their futures unclear, the narrator implies that they will be successful.
- Gum Great-Uncle Matthew Brown, an elderly geologist and Professor, who finds the three sisters during his travels.
- Sylvia Brown Gum's great-niece, known to the girls as "Garnie", short for Guardian. Garnie is a very caring woman.
- Nana Alice Gutheridge, Sylvia's nanny and later guardian after Sylvia was orphaned as a child. Called "Nana" by family and friends alike.
- Pauline Fossil The eldest sister by two years, rescued from the Titanic shipwreck. A talented actress and a great beauty, with an independent, bumptious streak.
- Petrova Fossil The middle sister, adopted from a young couple who died in Russia. Petrova is a tomboy, hardworking and diligent, but interested only in engines and aeroplanes and motor-cars.
- Posy Fossil The youngest sister by two years, whom Gum sends to the house by district messenger in a basket with a pair of ballet shoes. Her mother, a dancer, may well be alive, as it is said she 'has no time for babies' at the time of Posy's adoption. Posy is considered a child dance prodigy, though she was still too young to perform on stage at the book's conclusion.
- Dr. Jakes and Dr. Smith Boarders. A pair of retired professors of literature and maths, respectively, who offer to teach the girls. Dr. Jakes first inspires the girls to think of their adoptive state as being full of potential and individuality, without any chance of their achievements being attributed to family connections.
- Mr. and Mrs. Simpson Boarders. Mr. Simpson is particularly friendly with Petrova, on account of his Citroën car and auto-repair garage. In the 2007 film adaptation Mrs. Simpson's character was abandoned so that Mr. Simpson could serve as a love interest for Sylvia.
- Miss Thea Dane The last boarder. A dance teacher at the Children's Academy of Classical Ballet.
- Madame Fidolia A retired Russian prima ballerina of the old Russian empire. Now head of the Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training. Posy's teacher and mentor.
- Winifred A fellow student at the Children's Academy. Though considered the best all-round pupil at the Academy, she often loses major roles on account of her plain looks and inadequate clothing, the latter a result of her large family's poverty. Winifred is both a particular friend and rival of Pauline.
Ballet Shoes has twice been adapted for the screen, both by the BBC:
In popular culture
- Today there are usually eight books on the Carnegie shortlist. According to CCSU there were about 160 commended runners up for 1936 and the 49 years from 1954 to 2002, including Streatfeild and Howard Spring for 1936.
- "Ballet shoes; a story of three children on the stage" (first edition). Library of Congress Catalog Record. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
- "The 'Shoes' Books by Noel Streatfeild". h2g2. Created 22 January 2003; updated 14 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-07.
- "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 2012-08-22.
- (Carnegie Winner 1938). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-08-22.